View Full Version : How do I make rooting out a cult fun?

2016-10-22, 03:04 PM
So my PC's are supposed to go about rooting out an evil dragon god cult. The trouble is I want it to be more than just "you go to X city, find Y cult branch, and go in and kill a bunch of people." I want to throw some twists at them. What are some twists I can add on?

Tiktik Ironclaw
2016-10-22, 03:17 PM
Perhaps the questgiver is secretly a member of that dragon god cult, and the group he sent the PCs after are another, unrelated cult. Just an idea.

2016-10-22, 03:18 PM
Perhaps the questgiver is secretly a member of that dragon god cult, and the group he sent the PCs after are another, unrelated cult. Just an idea.

There is no questgiver.

2016-10-22, 03:23 PM
How about having it be more than just 'find the cult, kill the cult'.

The cult is getting their money by being legitimate owners of particular business enterprises. The operators aren't cultist themselves but while the business thrives so does the cult. Now the PCs have to get inventive in how to shut them down (buy them out, set up a competitor, drive away their customers somehow).

Alternatively it could be about setting up a counter 'cult'. There are more cultists than the PCs can hope to root out alone and they've compromised the local guards throughout the realm. They need to travel and set up their own network of agents to keep tabs on the cults activities. They need people with the know how and funding to set up and maintain such a network and they need people they can trust. Lot of things to work on there.

2016-10-22, 03:30 PM
We need a little bit more info before we can really offer ideas. Here's a few questions to help flesh this cult out:

1. What's the cult's end goal?

Do they want to kill all good dragons? Give all their worldly possessions to the nearest Smaug they can find? Bring Tiamat to the mortal plane?

2. Who are the cult's recruits?

Are they a bunch of spoiled rich kids? The oppressed masses striving to overthrow the government? A clan of kobolds lurking in human society? A cabal of crooked merchants looking to get rich quick?

3. Who is leading the cult?

An evil dragonborn? A nobleman deprived of his land by a good dragon? A high priest/priestess of Tiamat?

4. What are the leaders of the cult getting out of it?

Fame and fortune? Draconic friends? The satisfaction of watching their species being enslaved by dragons?

5. Why are the PCs the best people to handle this problem?

Are they the only ones who know about the cult? Is the cult good friends with the crown prince? Does the cult have a respectable front that the public trusts?

Ultimately, rooting out a cult boils down to identifying the threat, chasing it down, and arresting/killing all of its members. But the same could be said of foiling bank heists, terrorist plots, military coups, or dragon hunting. It's the details that make it interesting and fun, and with a bit more info we can help you flesh it out further. Hope this helps!

2016-10-22, 03:32 PM
The way cults work is that most of their membership are as much victims as the victims of the cult's other activities (actually, real cults don't tend to kidnap non-members to use in their rituals, or summon things to destroy the world, but needs must to have a fun D&D adventure I guess)

So there could be members of the cult who have bounties put on them by their families, payable in full only if they're returned unharmed, in part if they're returned alive, and if you kill them you'll have made enemies and possibly made yourself unwelcome in that town. Maybe even before you've got the leadership of the cult, which is doing something nefarious that absolutely must be stopped.

There could also be members of the cult in high places in local government, especially if they're promising things that can't be gotten through official channels and that people in power might want.

Put internal divisions in the cult where if you spread the right word fast enough you can split the cult in half and set them to fighting eachother.

Give the cult a lot of peripheral members who are sympathetic to it, maybe don't know all the details, but will be radicalized by a direct attack on the cult; even if you go in when the entire local inner circle is there and murder everyone so nobody can initiate them on the deeper mysteries, if there's one member of the cult's inner circle who's not present, when they get back the fact that there was just an attack just shows half the bystanders that it's more important that they learn and distribute these secrets so they don't die out, and the other half are pissed that you killed people they knew. So basically you do that, and within the day you're no longer welcome in that town and within a month there's another cult cell building up, which makes up in resolve whatever damage you did to their infrastructure.

There might be leadership that the cult will fall apart if you kill them (many cults are held together by one person's charisma) but getting to that one leader will be hard, especially if the cult is spread out over multiple towns, and there might be people able to take second-in-command positions, and it's also possible that decapitating the leadership will merely fragment it, with many cells being able to hold themselves together without higher leadership; they might change tack, but if they have a god who's giving them direct commands they'll still be on their god's plan.

Basically, make dealing with the cult more an infiltration challenge than a straight-up fight. Treat it like fighting an idea in a populated area, rather than fighting monsters.

2016-10-22, 03:35 PM
Couple possibilities:
"Fake" cultists mixed in: These guys have no authority, and no knowledge of how the whole "cult" thing is supposed to work. They often accidentally perform acts of good in their attempts to be evil cultists, and more rarely might manage some actual evil!!! These are the type of guys who would have "SECRET EVIL LAIR-NO HEROES ALLOWED" signs, but they might serve to hide the real threat or distract the players.

Actual false alarms: Sometimes people overreact, and the players might get news of cult activity in places where there isn't any. Pretty self explanatory.

Competing sects: There could be a number of factions in the cult, fighting for dominance. This could either be to the advantage or disadvantage of the players depending on whether or not they know the cult is fragmented.

2016-10-22, 04:00 PM
Ok a few more details.

This cult is started pretty much directly by divine intervention. Meaning, evil dragon god is waking up and sending messages to various people promising them power if they aid his return to the world. So in order to completely stop the cult the PC's will have to eventually reach and slay the god himself.

This means that it's not just one segment of a cult in one city. This is a cult with world-wide branches that may not even have any knowledge of each other. The PC's are level 10 PF mythic 1, so assume they have things like divination magic at their disposal.

The effect of this, of course, is that the cult may look very different in different places. The branch they killed was a few higher-level clerics and a large army, much of it undead, but that doesn't mean any other cult sect might look like that.

2016-10-22, 04:17 PM
Do they know about the evil dragon? I presume not. Each cult sect is acting out its own interpretation of the dragon whisperings, or perhaps they're directly sent different goals by the dragon. So step one is making sure there is plenty of variation in each city / encounter:

- find some guys and kill their army
- the cultist is the king's advisor. get close enough to stop her without being killed for treason
- the cultist is poisoning the food / water supply. track the illness and find the culprit
- people are acting in the dragon's interests without realising it (sleepwalking?), can the PCs stop the dragon's influence without killing innocents?

The next part is that to find out about the dragon as a whole they need information from the cultists themselves. So wading in with fire won't always help. They'll end one part of the cult (for now) but not make any progress towards the greater goal. Get them to search for clues, learn ancient languages, and slowly piece together the details about what this dragon is and where they need to go to kill it.

2016-10-22, 05:36 PM
This kind of reminds me of the main quest from Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. That main quest was all about the Mythic Dawn cult who was trying to bring the Lord of Destruction to the realm of mortals.

They had secret bases that you had to solve puzzles in order to find. They had agents everywhere, sometimes even attacking random people in the street. They were crazy, man. They opened huge portals to the Nether Realm, sending demons through.

Maybe this dragon god has lesser spawn that the cultists are capable of summoning?
Perhaps the cult has a secret sign language that they use to communicate with other members?
Maybe in order to bring their god to the realm of mortals, the cult has to kill enough good-aligned dragons out there and sacrifice the good-aligned dragon hearts on some altar?
Maybe some members of the cult are humans, some are elves, some are kobolds, and each racial leader in the cult is competing for the absolute highest favor of their god?
Perhaps the cult has a secret, deadly weapon that they use as a last resort, because using it carries a high cost (the users possibly losing their own lives in the process)
When the dragon god enters the realm of mortals (if the cult is successful in their goal) what will the dragon god do? Will he burn down the entire world, and rebuild it in his image? Maybe the other gods will intervene if it goes this far?

2016-10-29, 10:01 AM
Ok, so I'm thinking for the next segment that I'm sending them after I'll put 2 layers of cult in. The outer layer is going to be mostly bored rich kids. Decadent, licentious, swept away by the promise of magic, but not really evil, indulging in elaborate masquerades under dragon costumes and feasts after animal sacrifices. The true reality of the cult has been kept hidden from them. The inner cult is very small and kept hidden, but protected from the world by the outer cult. The cult itself is no secret but most people regard it as an amusing diversion for the spoiled extra children of noble families.

The main challenge will be, of course, finding a way to root out the evil bits without harming a bunch of rich kids - or bringing the wrath of nobles down on their heads.

2016-10-29, 10:43 AM
I like it! Couple of questions/ideas for you:

1. What is this particular branch of the cult trying to do? They're all trying to reawaken/release the evil dragon god, so how is this particular branch going to do its part? This ties into the second question, which is...

2. What does the cult gain by actively developing a following of bored rich kids? They gain protection, sure, but the best schemes can achieve multiple objectives with the same action. Why isn't the cult hiding in the sewers or in a hidden fortress in the wilderness instead?

They could be attracting rich kids for the money of course, and money can be used to buy elaborate ritual components, hire mercenaries to protect the cult, or assassins to dispose of nosy PCs.

Maybe the cult wants access to the kids' parents, who control the banks, armies, and local governments. Either by blackmailing the parents with the threat of scandal, brainwashing the kids and then killing their parents so the new cultist inherits, or by luring the parents out of their places of safety and power and into the cult's grasp.

Maybe the cult is searching for a kid with a special bloodline needed to liberate their dragon god. This kid could be the descendant of the hero who vanquished it last time, or maybe of the dragon's greatest high priest/ess.

Hope this helps!

2016-10-29, 10:53 AM
The whole idea of multiple levels makes sense, but I'd expand upon it. The dragon god could have use of a lot of minions, could make good use of institutional power, etc. So you'll have your standard evil cult up to nefarious deeds hidden away in the wilderness somewhere as one cell, but then you might also have cult members who aren't even openly part of the cult going into government, you might have cult cells that genuinely do good works (healing, feeding the poor, etc.) in the name of said god to try and get converts, so on and so forth. For every true follower of the evil god doing evil in their name there's a dozen dupes. Then even among the true followers there's room for complexity - the adult child of a major noble has been sucked in, the noble will never see evil in their dear baby, and said noble is perfectly willing to extract extreme vengeance for their kid, which takes them away from being one of the better nobles around.

2016-10-29, 10:58 AM
Hmmm...I was going with the idea that the kids are performing important rituals, they just don't quite know it yet. They may realize they're performing rituals, but they don't realize the full implications of what they're doing. The cult also wants to slowly indoctrinate these kids to recreate the old society based on blood magic and slavery - so it's not just the god's return, but he wants to have an army of cultists at the ready to take over for him.

2016-10-29, 04:09 PM
One thought I had would be to adjust how they can reach their end game. Perhaps the only way to reach the Dragon God is to be accepted there as one of the cult members. You could have the players tasked with quests to earn favor to be blessed by the God directly. They'll have to figure out ways to make it appear as though they completed their tasks, but not violating their true roles.

This should allow a great amount of RP from them and lateral thinking.

2016-10-31, 12:40 PM
Sounds like fun!
So they've stomped out one chapter of the evil cult. To keep the story rolling tie in a subtle detail thread to lead to the next leg of the quest. For instance, the PCs over hear in the tavern a greived reletive of a deceased secret cultist saying that their "poor dear jonny" has died and they weren't even able to have a proper burial before jonny's shady brother came back from FarAwayVille to fetch the body and took it back with him for some strange reason. Is the brother in the same cult else where? There's the PCs lead.
Then you can just roll with it like any other quest build, really, except that the cultists are the villain each time (either directly or indirectly). Some examples of how I might loosly plan:
-PCs journey to FarAwayVille
-Attacked on road
-PCs start asking around for Jonny's brother
-PCs get followed/harrassed in market/tavern
-PCs somehow hear about or get involved in a supposed kidnapping
-PCs are attacked in ally by thugs hired by cutlists
-PCs learn track down kidnappers, stop evil ritual/ceremony
-Several cultists get away
-PCs have physical descriptions of cultists now and track them down one by one, terminating them and their cronies
-Some cultists flee the city entirely - where to? leads to more investigative work and to next city/location

Sprinkle some other unrelated side quests in there too where you can even drop unrelated little hints of the cults ancient existence and dealings as well which will help reinforce the PCs hatred and need to eliminate this long standing cancer upon the land.

Mark Hall
2016-10-31, 01:19 PM
Also consider complications on relatively straightforward ones.

Sure, these are all cultists. But, they meet in a tent in the local bizarre, so there's lots of bystanders and opportunities to escape.

These meet in a maze, with those who reach the center being considered "worthy". Finding everyone means thorough searching the maze.

This cult is run by a beholder. Or they've coopted an undead cult. Or was started among a group of magic students at the university.

Stealth Marmot
2016-11-01, 01:56 PM
You could start with nothing more than a missing person's case. Find the human sacrifice that's about to be chopped into fun size chunks for the trick or treating elder gods.

2016-11-01, 04:27 PM
You could start with nothing more than a missing person's case. Find the human sacrifice that's about to be chopped into fun size chunks for the trick or treating elder gods.

Keep in mind that they both know about the cult already, and that we're talking 10th level D&D 3.5 characters. So assume we're talking about demigod level heroes with access to pretty good divination magic. Something like finding a single person should be a pretty trivial task.